If there was a month in which I would wish to be away from Ohio it is February, with the fewest days it is the longest month of the year for me due to the normal dismal and brutally cold weather. My only concern about going away in that month is the prospect of difficulty getting to and from the airport, plane wings requiring deicing and related dangers. So it was a little unusual after it was announced that the Padre Pio prayer group had been invited to go to Rome and the last minute attendees would be added at the December 2015 meeting when Diane and I looked at each other and she said, “You want to go?” and I said, “Yes” and before we left the meeting we had both talked to the travel agent in Massachusetts via Cindy’s cell phone and committed to go on the pilgrimage. In the end there would be 74 people from the Cleveland area.
Father Bob, one of the priests who would travel with us reminded us that this was a pilgrimage, not a vacation, so not to expect everything to go our way. The Ugly American always comes to mind when I think of some of us who may be loud and always complaining. Hey, …when in Rome, do as the Romans, remember that saying?
Those two months flew by and the weather had been mild for most of autumn and winter, so I was not surprised when on February 3rd as I backed out of my garage and parked my car in front of my neighbor’s house to find sunny skies and my light winter jacket was warm enough. I put my suitcase and carry-on bag on the back seat of the car and Diane arrived at 11:45 a.m. She pulled into my garage and I pulled back into my driveway so she could hoist her luggage into my trunk. In minutes we were on our way to the airport parking garage where I usually leave my car during my travels.
We were advised to be at the airport three hours prior to the flight and that time went by quickly enough as we went through the security and checking baggage. Heading to our gate we met another lady from the group who was finishing up lunch, so we decided to eat also since the time between flying and arriving in New York might not be enough and we’d be ravenous by then. It was fun seeing other familiar faces at the gate and as we got onto the plane. I always have a concern about a safe flight, but it seemed that this trip was meant to be so I tried to relax. The plane going from New York to Rome was an airbus and looks very big – like a wide street. Diane was in the same aisle opposite the folks in the middle lane.
To pass the time I ended up watching three movies: The Good Dinosaur, Pan and Key Largo, all of which I liked and had not seen before. When I went to London with my cousin, Theresa, I saw Shakespeare in Love, which I had seen at the theatre a few weeks earlier and saw it again on the way home. Delta provided us with a little box dinner – mine was chicken in a red sauce and was reminiscent of the meals airlines used to serve all the time before they decided to eliminate that service – nothing great, but was good enough.
Alas we arrived in Rome, collected our baggage and gathered in the terminal waiting for an hour or more for folks from a different flight who were all a part of our tour. This loss of time caused us to miss our first stop, St. Paul’s Outside the Wall, which I understand is remarkably beautiful and is the home of one of the Holy Doors we were scheduled to walk through.
When the bus got us to within a block of the Olympic Hotel where we were to stay, the driver began to haul the suitcases out of the bus and put them into the street right up against the bus, which caused a slight traffic jam. There was much horn honking and waving of fists by the drivers who were inconvenienced. I laughed and thought, Welcome to Italy.
The hotel clerk helped us get our bags up the steps into the lobby and proceeded with checking us in. They could only accommodate half of the group. The rest of them were at the Orange hotel. There was only one elevator so the line of us going up was long enough that the younger and sturdier of us opted for the stairs.
Once we settled in and freshened up a bit, we reconvened in the lobby to hike over to the restaurant for dinner. It was a family style restaurant a block and a half from the hotel. We poured down a flight of stairs into a good sized dining room. In a short time the Papa and daughter were bringing bowls of food and jugs of wine to each table, all were seated and Grace before meals said, soon the volume of talk and laughter rose to the rafters and I felt as if I were back in one of my own extended family dinners.